Ongoing Support and Professional Development
Initial training for Peer Supporters is only the start of their development. Once they start to actively support people living with HIV they will ‘try out’ what they have learned in training and start to develop their skills and knowledge, through their experience. Part of developing a successful Peer Support project includes ensuring that you have a model for supervision, follow on training and Continuing Professional Development (CPD).
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Supervision is a term used in clinical care to describe the process of reflecting on practice. It is an opportunity for practitioners to think about their skills and knowledge and how they can be developed to improve, in this case Peer Supporter practice.
Supervision should therefore be used as a space to encourage Peer Supporters open up and be able to explore their progress and how they feel. It is not a space to tackle issues – this should be dealt with separately, in debrief or one-to-one meetings, or as soon as the issue arises.
Supervision should be a collaborative process that enhances the development of the Peer Supporter. It ensures that the welfare of the Peer Supporter, and therefore the mentee, is maintained. It should be a structured activity that involves observation, evaluation, feedback and the facilitation of self-assessment. It is also an opportunity for the Peer Supporter to acquire new knowledge and skills through problem solving and exploration with the person supervising, or with the wider group of Peer Supporters, where Group Supervision is the model used. In short, supervision should not be prescriptive, and should encourage Peer Supporters to look at all options for problem solving.
Supervision is not debriefing. You should debrief with your Peer Supporters after each session to check in. The regularity with which you offer supervision depends on your resources, but you need to make sure that you fulfil the commitment you decide to offer. You should write up notes and action points from supervision meetings and give a copy to the Peer Supporter.
Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
Being an effective Peer Supporter for people living with HIV includes being up to date with developments in healthcare, and the external environment. You want your Peer Supporters’ knowledge to be current. This not only enhances their skills and knowledge but ensures better support for mentees.
CPD should be discussed in assessment and initial training. While you want your Peer Supporters to be motivated in this respect, you also need to encourage this aspect of their development. In addition, signposting to other courses, events, articles and websites that you come across will indicate your expectations and model what you do to keep up to date and relevant.
Recording any CPD activities that Peer Supporters engage in will demonstrate for them and you their personal development. This is useful as an evaluation tool for you, and your Peer Supporters have a record that they can use for future applications for work or further training.
Initial training is really the start of a Peer Supporter’s learning. You may have additional training that Peer Supporters have to attend for compliance reasons – e.g. Health and Safety updates. There will also be follow on training that you want to offer to build on Peer Supporters’ experience, interest and expertise. You should use your one-to-one, supervision sessions and group meetings with your Peer Supporters to help you gauge what additional training and learning to offer/advise. By approaching learning and development collaboratively and finding out what people say they want as well as who you think they need, you are likely to get better engagement from Peer Supporters.
Follow on training can be costly if you rely on external facilitators and boring for the participants if it is always you delivering courses! Rather than always pulling together a course to address a training need there may be alternative ways to keep the learning of the group relevant and up to date:
Group/Peer led learning
If you have identified a learning need together that can be addressed as a group – come together as a group to meet the need. You may have Peer Supporters who are particularly interested in a certain area or topic who want to research and lead a learning activity. Encourage it – taking responsibility for learning is part of developing self-confidence.
Depending on the size of your organisation you may have e-learning modules that staff use already. This can be a more cost effective way to deliver certain types of training but may not suit people who are not confident with technology or have particular learning needs. For Peer Supporters with particular interest, there may be e-learning modules that they can follow. Some e-learning courses are free. MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) offer a huge range of learning opportunities free of charge that tackle a range of issues and ideas.
Partnering with other organisations
It is worth finding out how whether there are other similar organisations in your area that offer training and learning opportunities that you could benefit from. Potentially you could partner with them to pool resources, share training programmes and save costs.
It is worth finding out what free training and learning exists in your area. Some groups will get funding to run courses and workshops that have a benefit to people and groups from other third sector organisations.
Ongoing learning is part of CPD. You should take every opportunity to encourage and facilitate Peer Supporters to enhance their skills and knowledge which in turn will increase their confidence and self-esteem. However, be mindful that if your Peer Supporters are volunteers you cannot insist that they attend a particular training event unless it is part of a statutory obligation of your organisation.